An article delayed due to procrastination 😭.
Procrastination is the habit of postponing important and time-sensitive tasks to a later time.
There are distinctions within procrastination behavior; not all procrastination is considered procrastination disorder. Procrastination behavior is often categorized into two types: active procrastination and passive procrastination.
Active procrastination involves purposefully delaying tasks to make thoughtful decisions. Some individuals thrive under pressure, consciously delaying tasks to enhance efficiency and satisfaction with the results. In contrast, passive procrastination, which this article focuses on, refers to the traditional understanding of procrastination, where people fail to complete tasks on time due to reasons such as avoiding stress, fearing anxiety about failure, or pursuing perfection.
Professor Pierce Steel from the University of Calgary proposed a famous “Procrastination Formula”:
O = (CE * TV) / (DI * DR)
Overcoming procrastination ability = (Confidence Expectancy * Task Value) / (Distraction Impulsiveness * Delayed Rewards)
This formula indicates that tasks with more information and higher value are less likely to be procrastinated. On the other hand, tasks with stronger distractions, impulsiveness, or delayed rewards are more prone to procrastination.
In general, complex tasks with higher value but longer completion periods, often prone to distractions, and with delayed rewards, are more susceptible to procrastination. Conversely, simple and routine tasks are less likely to be postponed.
People tend to delay completing tasks that are unpleasant, challenging, or evoke negative feelings, preferring simpler, less challenging tasks.
This type of procrastination is related to the time constraints of tasks. While all work is organized by schedules, workflows, and deadlines, relying solely on the final deadline may lead to trouble. Humans tend to avoid tasks that appear complex, unclear, or lack a clear perspective, resulting in delays.
This type of procrastination is generally related to personal life. Personal affairs often lack clear initiation deadlines, appearing less like procrastination. However, these personal plans are often idealized, lacking external supervision pressure and having low abandonment costs. Therefore, personal tasks planned by individuals may easily be delayed. The “Urgent-Important” dimension of the time management model is an effective method.
Simple procrastination involves doing nothing, resisting or withdrawing when a task feels uncomfortable or unpleasant. It originates from momentary hesitation, triggering an automatic procrastination response.
Complex procrastination involves multiple factors and is often accompanied by “self-doubt” or “perfectionism,” which will be detailed in the “Procrastination Thinking” section.
Procrastination thinking refers to mentally diverting attention, also known as cognitive diversion, to bypass urgent matters and take seemingly safer paths.
Under this thinking, you often set conditions for completing a task, allowing you to postpone it. These conditions are often trivial and inconsequential. For example, you want to pursue an MBA degree, but the pursuit of perfection leads you to gather and digest all relevant MBA information before making a decision. Day by day, the application deadline passes.
You constantly tell yourself that you need to understand the cause of your procrastination to overcome it. For instance, you feel that you need to embark on an archaeological expedition to understand deep-seated issues, creating a good excuse for procrastination. However, these reasons have no causal relationship.
Imagine you are a procurement officer, and your boss asks you to negotiate lower procurement costs with suppliers. If you lack confidence and motivation for this task, you may tell yourself and others that the boss is unrealistic, resulting in half-hearted efforts and ultimately no successful negotiation.
“If I can create a perfect plan, reality will change.” This is a psychological defense mechanism, releasing disappointment and frustration in fantasy, compensating for previous setbacks. It makes you feel worse.
“If I hadn’t procrastinated and followed the plan, the results would surely be better than they are now.” To avoid the risk of task failure and criticism from society and others, procrastination becomes a temporary means of self-value protection.
Perfect Timing: “I have one more small thing to do; without completing it, I cannot start the important task at hand.”
The pursuit of perfection increases resource consumption exponentially. The increasing cost of approaching perfection can lead to frustration, and perfectionists are likely to fear resource consumption, abandoning action based on the “economic” principle.
Perfect Plan: “I must create a perfect plan before taking action; a wrong direction may lead to total failure.”
If the plan is not perfect or the state does not meet expectations, they might think, “How can I complete the task in this way?” Eventually, they fall into great anxiety, losing motivation to complete the entire task. Because the ideal state is hard to achieve and not a norm, procrastinators find it challenging to persevere and often abandon the action halfway.
Perfect Action: “I must be in the best state to achieve the best results, demonstrating my abilities.”
If we continue to demand ourselves with an ideal state, the disparity between the ideal and reality may bring strong feelings of frustration. In the end, to maintain self-esteem and the ideal self-image, we may resist accepting our shortcomings, projecting them onto the object, believing, “It’s not my ability; it’s just that my plan isn’t good enough, and my state isn’t optimal.”
Perfectionists often have very high expectations for what they need to accomplish, easily leading to behavioral setbacks. This high expectation can easily lead to frustration, and the resulting setback generates self-doubt. When this process, “High expectations → Action → Setback → Self-doubt,” is continually reinforced, an avoidance mechanism is created.
Rebuild cognitive recognition of your behavior, perceive procrastination symptoms.
Be alert and sensitive to your thoughts. Rethink your thoughts, make goals clearer, and constantly self-adjust during action to increase efficiency. In the procrastination mode, be aware of the type of pressure you are feeling and evaluate it.
Actively test your new ideas, reflect on the process of pursuing positive outcomes, and see what changes in beliefs and emotions. For example, when you feel a distracting impulse while doing something, endure it for 5 minutes and see what happens.
Adjustment is part of cognitive integration. In this step, procrastination and efficiency are juxtaposed and conflicting. For example, when struggling between “do it tomorrow” and “take immediate action,” compare what each approach brings you. Examine the excuses and reasons at this moment, considering what they can bring to you, and use mindfulness to focus on your feelings.
Accept the reality as it is, not what it should be. Self-acceptance enhances your resilience. If you procrastinate, that’s okay; what can you do to make yourself feel better? What have you learned if you did something?
This is a process similar to a peak experience. For example, if you had a chance to start your life again, what significant actions would you take?
Can you overcome procrastination by adjusting your thoughts and actions? When you overcome procrastination, where do you feel you have improved?
After perceiving procrastination behavior, compare the differences between “procrastination” and “non-procrastination” from a different perspective.
- A (aversive or activating): The triggering event.
- B (believe): Beliefs after encountering the triggering event—views, interpretations, assessments. Procrastination beliefs might be “do it tomorrow,” while rational beliefs should be “take immediate action.”
- C (consequences): Results in specific situations. The task that urgently needs to be done unpleasantly and is postponed under the “do it tomorrow” mindset.
- D (disputing): Intervene with procrastination thinking, use contrasting ideas, and reevaluate things from a different perspective. Use the “take immediate action” mindset to counteract the procrastination mindset.
- E (effect): Effects and benefits after countering procrastination thinking. Contrast the results of “take immediate action” and “do it tomorrow” to make a clear choice.
Overcoming procrastination goes against human nature; controlling emotions during the change process is essential to build patience and persistence. Even in uncomfortable situations, you can confidently move forward along the original path.
- P (pause): Pause and listen to your inner voice, realize “I have a procrastination thought.”
- U (use): Use intervention methods to restrain behaviors that want to divert attention.
- R (reflect): Reflect and truly experience the current moment’s feelings.
- R (reason): Reason and compare the long-term and short-term benefits of negative and positive consequences, analyzing the long-term and short-term benefits of procrastination and immediate action.
- R (respond): Choose and make favorable behavioral decisions based on the information above.
- R (review and revise): Review and revise, self-reflection.
- S (stabilize): Stabilize continuously.
- Self-doubt: Examine yourself from multiple perspectives, evaluate your abilities reasonably, and view uncertainties rationally.
- Perfectionism: Conduct diversified evaluations, don’t demand yourself in black and white, follow natural laws, and don’t forcefully require yourself to do things that are impossible.
- Fear of criticism: Don’t force yourself to please others or avoid disappointing them; you can’t get along with everyone.
- Fear of failure: View failures rationally; who cares about failure, and what are the consequences of failure?
Determine the direction, implement actions, and achieve more efficient tasks.
In general, tasks are determined by a few critical factors. Identify these factors for quick and effective decision-making. For example, you can use a matrix of urgency and importance to prioritize your work.
I ask myself this question every day: Is what I am doing now the most important thing I can do? Only with a positive answer do I feel comfortable, knowing that my energy and time are not wasted.
Done is better than perfect.
You need to clarify the subconscious requirement of “unbearable decision-making mistakes” and accept uncertainty. Collect information, make efforts, help yourself make a reasonable decision, and take the first step.
You are unwilling to plant flowers; you say you are unwilling to see them wither little by little. Yes, to avoid ending, you avoid all beginnings.
Execute the plan and act according to the plan.
In the process of setting goals and striving for them, he found himself not perfect, but if he didn’t accept the challenge, he would be far from as good as he is later.
Overall, overcoming procrastination is about rebuilding cognitive recognition of behavior, perceiving procrastination behavior, changing the inertia of procrastination thinking, controlling emotions to stabilize the transformation of anti-procrastination habits, and determining the direction of action and implementing it to completion.
This article primarily emphasizes building the correct understanding of procrastination. The “Implementation of Action” is an independent topic and can be expanded into a separate discussion. Given the numerous books on this topic, further details are not provided here. Recommended readings include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Getting Things Done.
For more information on procrastination, you can visit the “Douban Procrastination Group”: We Are All Procrastinators.
Finally, there is a TED Talk on procrastination: Do You Procrastinate?.